[Oscar Madness Monday] Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

IMDb Top 250: #53 (as of 4/29/2020)

 

Recently, in April, Alien fans everywhere celebrated Alien Day on 4/26 (as in LV-426, the moon where the Facehugger Eggs are first discovered in the original film), and it seems like a great time to revisit that very important film, one that changed many minds about the strength of horror films and sci-fi films.

The commercial transport ship Nostromo is returning to Earth with Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt, Contact, Lucky) and the other six members of the crew in stasis sleep. They are awoken by the ship’s computer it detects a transmission coming from a nearby moon. The crew sends a team down to discover the origins of the transmission, and what they uncover on the planet is more horrifying than any of them have ever known.

This comparison has been made many a time, but Alien shares a lot with Jaws. Now, everyone is going to say that the less-is-more comparison is obvious, but I’m looking at it from a different angle. The use of darkness and perspective in particular highlights all of the strengths of the film, particularly in their central monster. Director Ridley Scott (The Martian, All the Money in the World) understands what will work and what won’t, and he utilizes his tools well. Looking at some of the behind-the-scenes photos of the film, and particularly the xenomorph (played by Bolaji Badejo) showcase that this movie could’ve looked damn goofy, but the way it was shot and the way it was lit helps to focus the mood of the film, and it still, to this day, looks gorgeous as much as it looks gruesome.

Actor John Hurt on the set of “Alien”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The cast is fantastic, with specific emphasis thrown toward Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Ghostbusters II) as Ripley, the warrant officer, and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth) as Ash, the science officer. Everyone gets at least one great moment in the film.

The script is very strong and runs along very smoothly. This movie just cruises along, with no extra fat. Looking at Alien as a screenplay, it could very simply boil down into a slasher film as the xenomorph moves through the ship trying to pick off the crew one-by-one, but thankfully, the Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, The Return of the Living Dead) screenplay is stacked with flavor and atmosphere that Scott was able to play off of.

Ridley Scott’s strong directing and Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay combined to make a truly excellent atmospheric horror film. This is one that has aged like a fine wine, and it features some incredible set pieces, including the dinner scene with John Hurt’s (1984, The Elephant Man) intense performance is still one of the most shocking movie moments of all time. This is a movie that shows that not everything needs explaining and that, in fact, some films are stronger without all the answers. Stick with the Theatrical Cut as Scott’s Director’s Cut no longer makes full canonical sense within the confines of the xenomorph’s life cycle, but both versions of Alien are well-worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, click here.

For my review of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, click here.

[Oscar Madness Monday] Gangs of New York (2002)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson

Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

167 mins. Rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song

 

I’ve really wanted to revisit Gangs of New York for some time. I recall catching it back in college, and I also recall not liking it very much. Since college, I’ve grown to love and respect Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Irishman) and his filmography. He’s since become a director, in my eyes, that I would place on a Mt. Rushmore of all-time directors, but a few films by the director just didn’t click with me at the time, but I’ve wanted to watch those films again. Gangs of New York is one such picture. During this time of social distancing, I now have that time to rewatch Gangs of New York. Let’s see how this plays out.

The year is 1862, and Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) has return to New York City, to a place called the Five Points he fled from years ago. Vallon only has one goal in mind: to kill Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), the man who killed his father in a brutal gang fight when Vallon was a child. Vallon finds himself infiltrating Bill’s inner workings in order to gain his confidence and get his vengeance, but matters are complicated when he comes into contact with an attractive pickpocket named Jenny (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and the lines are blurred among the Five Points.

It’s impressive that Leo is able to maintain a presence onscreen with Day-Lewis. This is still a film relatively early in the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and his subdued yet strong performance is still able to hold his own. I really like DiCaprio here because he is able to portray Amsterdam Vallon’s internal flaws, which is something that becomes more complex as the narrative unfolds. Vallon’s emotional strain is stretched to the snapping point by what he is forced to endure at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” throughout the film.

Make no mistakes, though, no one is outshining Daniel Day-Lewis here as Bill Cutting. His fast-talking molasses-drawled speech is engaging, and his menacing visual performance is so catching and engaging. I love how DDL stays in character throughout shooting (he reportedly had dinner with Scorsese and DiCaprio in character after shooting wrapped for the day), and it seemingly helps his performance because he owns every film he appears in.

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but because of all the performing prowess displayed by not only DiCaprio and Day-Lewis but most of the supporting cast, it is quite noticeable how out-of-her-element Diaz is. Her broken accent as Jenny Everdeane is only overshadowed by her seeming disinterest in her character or the film she’s in. She just doesn’t engage on an entertainment level.

The screenplay for Gangs of New York is from Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. There’s some prowess to this screenwriting crew, but I have a lot of problems with the screenplay. I feel like it was written very capably but it isn’t accessible. It’s a screenplay made for the audiences of 1862 instead of for today. The first time I watched it, I just couldn’t get into it, but I will say it was much better on the second viewing, but even then, I find some real problems with the screenplay. There’s a lost quality to the narrative at the beginning and near the end, with the second act of the film finding its footing.

Martin Scorsese is really trying something new with Gangs of New York. His directing style is a little more erratic, ambitious, and violent. Not all of it works within the confines of the film, but it showcases Scorsese’s interest in evolving. You can complain all you want about Martin Scorsese as a gangster filmmaker, but he is so much more than that, and Gangs of New York is a very different gangster film, or film in general, than anything else in his oeuvre. As stated, not all of the visual storytelling Scorsese presents here works, and I think, again, it works on a second viewing better than the first time around.

Gangs of New York is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s more positive than negative in all this, but it still struggles getting going and finishing strong. There’s a lot of good meat to the film, but it both works and doesn’t work, with the positive outweighing the negative. I enjoyed it on the second viewing way more than the first, mostly from the incredible work from DiCaprio and DDL. This will work for historical buffs or anyone with a bloodlust for bloody violence as well, to varying degrees.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Walk Run Cha-Cha (2019)

Director: Laura Nix

Cast: Chipaul Cao, Millie Cao, Maksym Kapitanchuk

Screenplay: Laura Nix

20 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Short Subject [PENDING]

 

Walk Run Cha-Cha is another Oscar-nominated short doc, this one a bit lighter fair than the others, focused on a couple, Paul and Millie Cao, who suffered in their younger years dealing with the fallout of the Vietnam War, who have now discovered, in their older years, an affinity for dancing.

This short documentary, written and directed by Laura Nix (The Politics of Fur, Inventing Tomorrow), chronicles both Paul and Millie’s background, the journey that brought them together, that brought them to America. It also looks at what brought them to dance, a mutual love they have both found. Initially, the doc, while entertaining and interesting, seems a little simplistic. Why this doc short for the Oscar?

It’s only upon seeing the climax that Nix builds the story to, a choreographed presentation made by this couple that accentuates their craft, their feelings for one another, and their feelings toward the dance. It’s a powerful, moving, and beautifully shot sequence that drives the whole film home in an elegant and memorable way.

Walk Run Cha-Cha does not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a moving and beautiful story that showcases a love that we should all hope to achieve in life. Aided by terrific pacing and an interesting set of subjects, this is a lovely story worth watching.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Life Overtakes Me (2019)

Director: John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson

Cast: Henry Ascher, Nadja Hatem, Mikael Billing

39 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Short Subject [PENDING]

 

Okay, I’ll be real. I didn’t know anything about Resignation Syndrome. This was all new to me, and in that way, Life Overtakes Me was a real learning experience.

Life Overtakes Me, from directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson (Tokyo Waka, Barn Dance), chronicles refugees searching for sanctuary and the children dealing with the trauma caused by uncertainty. The children in these families have internally shut down into a sleep-like state, almost comatose, and the documentary shows how the families are forced to deal with the situation and pray for the best.

As I said above, I’ve never heard of Resignation Syndrome until seeing this, and it’s both an interesting view at this condition and also perhaps a little too simplistic of a look. It doesn’t delve deep enough to really be effective, but I was quite interested in the subject material. I just wanted more.

Life Overtakes Me was effective in breaking my heart, and I think it’s a very timely piece. Especially now, in America, looking at the way our country treats newcomers and people looking for safety and security in a new land, this short absolutely sickened me. I keep thinking about our borders and all the children dealing with trauma and it haunts me.

This short film, while not as in-depth as I would have liked, was still a strong viewing experience. Hell, it’s on Netflix, you have no excuse to ignore this 40-minute lesson in something I doubt many people even know of. Check this one out when you can. It’s worth you time, and it may just get you thinking.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[#2020oscardeathrace] For Sama (2019)

Director: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Cast: Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Kateab, Sama Al-Kateab

96 mins. Rated TV-14.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [PENDING]

 

There’s been a lot of cinema in recent years about the conflict in Syria, and many documentaries have presented unique filmmaker voices spread across the area. One of the more recent and unique voices comes from filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who documented her life in Syria from 2012 to 2017, from falling in love to getting married to having a child, Sama. The film is made as a video journal intended for Sama to understand exactly what Waad and husband Hamza had to get through in order to survive.

This is another hard-hitting documentary look at the situation in Syria. It was incredibly hard to watch, much as the other documentaries have been, but this one was all the more effective because it follows life, day-to-day, and families, or the potential fracturing of family. I cannot begin to understand the world that Waad and her family existed in, the kind of difficult choices that had to be made in order to survive and live. People need to be able to live their lives, or life just isn’t worth living, and the love letter that Waad tells to her child is so tense and frustrating.

For Sama is an excellent time capsule from Syria, a tale of family, that is jarring and painful to watch, but it contains small moments of beauty as well. The film runs on a little long, even for an 86-minute film, but it works quite well at examining Syria from a different viewpoint. Check it out when you can, the film can be discovered for free care of PBS.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Honeyland (2019)

Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov

Cast: Hatidze Muratova

86 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [PENDING]

 

Fun little bit of Oscars trivia for you. No film has ever gotten nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature…until Honeyland. There, you learned something reading this review.

Honeyland was filmed over the course of three years, chronicling the story of Hatidze Muratova, a women living in the wild mountains of Macedonia and operating an ancient beekeeping lifestyle, one that seems to be based on a symbiotic relationship between humans and bees. By not taking more than is necessary, she is able to successfully maintain an almost endless supply of honey, but when a family moves into the area nearby and attempts to get in on the honey money, Hatidze finds her world forever changed.

Honeyland is a powerful view of a world I’ve never seen. Hatidze’s world at the beginning is nicely juxtaposed with her world after the moving in of the new family, who seem to not understand this symbiotic relationship with the bees that Hatidze gains from. It features some of the most incredible real footage of her world in Macedonia.

Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov spent three years recording footage and molding it to fit this fairly-tight narrative, and that intimate closeness between the directors and their subjects creates a truly in-depth and emotion-laden story. It was heartbreaking to see Hatidze dealing with her ailing mother while simultaneously striving to survive her work and the competing work of the new family.

Honeyland is very worth watching. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year and also one of the best international films of the year. I highly suggest you take this spiritual journey of a woman and nature and check the film out as soon as possible.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] In the Absence (2018)

Director: Seung-jun Yi

28 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Short Subject [PENDING]

 

In the Absence is a short film chronicling the disaster of the South Korean ferry, Sewol, which, in 2014, sank nearby Jeju Island. Presented through real footage, texts from passengers aboard, real phone calls and phone call transcripts, and interviews with people involved, In the Absence is a haunting look at this true disaster and loss of life that very easily could have been lessened.

This is a haunting short film, and I struggled to get through it without chucking something at my television screen. Seeing the disaster play out across the initial days and following months while government officials continually made poor choices that worsened the situation is absolutely sickening. This is a hard-hitting piece of documentary film-making that says so much in such a small run-time.

In the Absence is a truly effective little short that hit me very hard. I learned a lot about a situation I knew very little about, and the time I spent was frustratingly powerful. I cannot recommend this one enough. Seek it out and be changed.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Director: Joachim Rønning

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Leslie Manville, Michelle Pfeiffer

Screenplay: Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster

119 mins. Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [PENDING]

 

I was genuinely interested in Maleficent when it came out back in 2014. I liked the idea that Disney was taking a different route with their live-action adaptations by focusing on the villain. It’s an overall rough move, but I admired the attempt. Unfortunately, that was all for naught, as Disney merely decided to make Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted, Kung Fu Panda 3) into the hero and make the King an evil bad guy. It was a disappointing move that essentially turned Maleficent into a film that didn’t work. Now, some years later, Disney is going back into the world of Maleficent with a sequel, and to be fair, the trailers seemed quite intriguing. But would Mistress of Evil be a course-correction, turning Maleficent into the villain we all know her to be, or is this another misfire?

Five years have passed since the death of the evil King Stefan, Maleficent has been protecting the Moors with Aurora (Elle Fanning, Super 8, A Rainy Day in New York) serving as Queen. When Prince Phillip from Ulstead proposes marriage to Aurora, Maleficent is forced to play nice when meeting Phillip’s parents, King John and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame). That plan goes south when Ingrith creates toxicity at their first dinner together, manipulating the situation to make Maleficent look like the evil creature that the people of Ulstead believe her to be. She flees but is attacked by Ingrith’s soldiers and is injured, rescued at the last second by a winged creature who looks similar to her. Now, with Maleficent in hiding and Ingrith twisting the narrative, it would appear that there’s no stopping an all-out war between the humans and the magical creatures, and it’s up to Maleficent to stop it.

Apart from the obvious question of “Who Was Asking for Maleficent 2?” comes the realization that, to a lesser extent, this follow-up repeats the same mistakes as the original. Again, we have a marketing campaign selling us on Maleficent, the Mistress of Evil, one of the greatest villains in history, and the movie is Maleficent Lite, the “Diet Coke of Evil” as Mike Myers once put it. Yet again, we have an opportunity to see a hero turn to darkness, and yet again, the decision is made to keep her heroic. This film rides the line a little better than before, but it still keeps Maleficent heroic.

The performances are all just fine, specifically Jolie, Fanning, and Pfeiffer, but I feel like the writing for Queen Ingrith intrudes on Pfeiffer’s performance, making her a little mustache-twirly at times. I don’t get her motivation as a villain considering how the first film framed Maleficent, and I need more from her character to showcase why she has it out for Maleficent.

Outside of all that, some of the action is fun even though this movie is so CGI-heavy that it’s tough to take any of it seriously. The CGI is just a little too glossy. It’s enjoyable enough, and what can I say, it’s a better movie than its predecessor, but not by much.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a poor title for this film considering Disney isn’t actually willing to make a story about the real villain and chooses to sugarcoat this story making the villain into the hero…yet again. It’s disappointing because this sequel just feels like broken promises stretched into two hours. I think there are people that will enjoy it, and I believe it is a wholly better film than the first one, but I don’t think we need this franchise to continue.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Knives Out (2019)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

131 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]

 

When it was announced that writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) would be making a murder mystery before returning to helm a trilogy of Star Wars films (I’m still convinced this will happen, but maybe it’s just my wanting), I was shocked but rather interested. After all, the subgenre of Agatha Christie-inspired murder mysteries had kind of dried in recent years outside of adaptations of her work like Murder on the Orient Express. Rian Johnson, who had dealt in the mystery genre several years earlier with Brick, seemed like the perfect choice to restart this once beloved subgenre, and I was all for it.

Famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, Beginners, The Last Full Measure) is dead. The death has been ruled a suicide, but someone unknown has hired the last great sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale, Logan Lucky) to investigate. It would seem that Harlan had no true friends within his family, and each of them has a motive strong enough to be a suspect, but just who did it? As lies are created and truths are uncovered, the family is turns on one another, and it’s up to Blanc to find the donut hole, the missing piece of the story.

Where to begin with this film? First off, we have to address Johnson’s tone for the film. It’s fun, sarcastic, stylish, and engaging. He sets most of the action in one location, Harlan’s mansion, a gorgeously-designed set that I just wanted to spend more time in. There are homages all throughout the mansion designed to invoke that classic mystery theme. Plus, it’s just a damn creepy house. Beyond that, the house and the characters residing in it feel real within the universe Johnson has constructed. The house feels lived-in. The characters feel like they have long lists of experiences to pull from. Everything fits, like puzzle pieces expertly placed to give a  clearer image and a staggering conclusion.

Daniel Craig leads the cast as Blanc with a truly molasses-mouth scene-chewing take on his character that is set to become iconic in years to come. His mannerisms, speech patterns, and physicality make Benoit Blanc a treat to be with, and that’s much like the mansion. I wanted to spend time with these characters. Not in the way that they are friendly, but in the way that they are fun to watch.

Each of the members of Thrombey’s extended family is like a slightly-damaged, partially-fractured chess piece arranged on a board, and Johnson is playing against himself. I was primarily taken with Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, The Informer) as Marta, Harlan’s nurse, who feels alienated within the family even though they all claim that she’s a part of it. Then there is Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and her husband Richard (Vault, TV’s Miami Vice), who play very well on their own but have a dynamite chemistry when put together.

In fact, the cast is pitch-perfect, and there’s no real time to talk about all of them, but I have to give a shout to Chris Evans (The Avengers, The Read Sea Diving Resort) as Ransom, Harlan’s grandson, the loud-mouthed privileged youth who obviously has no friends within the family. Evans plays against-type when compared to his decade as Captain America with Ransom, and it’s a welcome return to the smarmy roles he was once more well-known for.

If there’s a flaw in the film, and I do believe there is one for me, it’s that certain reveals in the film happen far earlier than I would have liked, and I think the mystery would have been stronger if we were kept wondering for longer. That, and I personally was able to see where it was going a little earlier than I would’ve liked. Perhaps I was just good at guessing, as I’ve spoken to others who did not see the end coming. My suggestion would be not to try and unravel the mystery, but instead, enjoy the journey, because it’s a damn good one.

Knives Out is an elegantly-constructed Whodunnit with incredible performances, great production design, and a director at the helm who really understands story and tone. This was enjoyable as hell and I cannot wait to see it again. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out comes highly recommended.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

[#2020oscardeathrace] Richard Jewell (2019)

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm, Olivia Wilde, Paul Walter Hauser

Screenplay: Billy Ray

131 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role [Kathy Bates] [PENDING]

 

Director Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, The 15:17 to Paris) is back again with another true life tale, this time surrounding the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the aftermath. It’s interesting that Eastwood’s films just kind of show up with a trailer for a movie I didn’t even know existed, and I loved the trailer for this one, so I was quite eager to see it. I only hoped that the film would live up to the hype.

Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser, I, Tonya, Late Night) is a security guard tasked with patrolling Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games. On July 27th, Richard discovers a suspicious package at the park and he makes a call that saves many lives when the package is revealed to be a bomb. Richard is seen as a hero. But FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm, Between Two Ferns: The Movie, TV’s Mad Men) believes that Richard may have actually been the man who placed the bomb in Centennial Park. Add to that the story published on the front page of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution written by Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde, Tron: Legacy, Life Itself) revealing that Jewell is a suspect, and suddenly Richard is no longer the hero but the prime suspect in the eyes of members of the public, the United States government, and the media. Enter Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell, Moon, TV’s Fosse/Verdon), an attorney who befriended Jewell a decade prior, who is out to protect Jewell’s rights and, hopefully, keep him out of jail.

Paul Walter Hauser may not be a bankable leading man, but he knocks his performance out of the park here. I’ve been a fan of Hauser’s since I, Tonya, and he was a standout in BlacKkKlansman and several other films, but he’s at the forefront here, and he does not disappoint.

Hauser is also surrounded by a bevy of big-screen talent. Kathy Bates (Misery, The Highwaymen) portrays Bobi Jewell, Richard’s mother, and while she doesn’t get a lot of screen time, she makes use of it, culminating in a powerful scene that earned her an Oscar nomination. Rockwell is also at the top of his game as Bryant, a man trying to help his friend who seemingly doesn’t understand the politics of his situation. Richard keeps saying the wrong thing and Bryant’s biggest battle is not against the FBI or the media but actually changing Richard’s mindset into that of a fighter.

On the opposite side of things, I really didn’t like the characters of Tom Shaw and Kathy Scruggs. From the writing and characterization to the directing, I was unimpressed with these two antagonists that were reduced to mustache-twirling stock villains. I don’t really get Shaw’s motivation for targeting Richard Jewell, and I feel like Scruggs has a motivation, but it’s never really confirmed and only ever inferred. Much love for Hamm and Wilde who did the best with the material, but these were bad characters.

There’s another small detail of the film that took me out of it. Recently, there’s been a trend of using real footage in films based on true events. Several films have enacted this idea, perhaps in an attempt to remind us as viewers that this actually happened, but it only serves to take me out of the film and remind me that I’m watching a recreation. It happens in when an interview between Richard and Katie Couric occurs that uses Hauser’s voice but real footage of Jewell, and I really don’t like it. It loses the realness and the concoction of the actor voice and the subject visual really doesn’t work. It is a small moment, but it does detract from the viewing experience.

I think that Richard Jewell is a fine film, but it suffers from a lack of elements that draw in the viewer. I liked several pieces of the puzzle, but the way Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Gemini Man) deal with their antagonists absolutely falls flat. Hauser is at the top of his game here as is Bates and Rockwell, and overall they keep the film moving in a mostly-satisfying way. This is still one worth seeing, but it feels like the overall impact of the film is missing.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, click here.

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